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Virginia Neelon honored with graduate nursing scholarship

Dr. Neelon was honored with the official presentation of the scholarship by Interim Dean Donna S. Havens.

The Dr. Virginia Neelon Endowed Graduate Nursing Scholarship was established to honor the distinguished career of Virginia Neelon, PhD, RN, upon her retirement from the faculty at the UNC Chapel Hill School of Nursing. Dr. Neelon served the School for more than 35 years, and directed the Biobehavioral Laboratory (BBL) for almost 25 years.

On May 14, Dr. Neelon was honored with a celebration of her career at the School of Nursing and an official presentation of the endowed graduate nursing scholarship, which will support a doctoral nursing student studying in the BBL each year. At the event, many former students and colleagues discussed the tremendous impact that the BBL has had on their careers. As the endowment grows over time, the fund will help recruit strong scholars to continue the important work begun by Dr. Neelon.

“To have scholarship support gives students the opportunity to explore important questions related to biobehavioral responses and how best to measure those responses — normal and abnormal, stress and illness — in subjects of all ages and in all environments using minimally invasive methods and instrumentation,” Dr. Neelon says. “It is wonderful to be honored with support for a scholarship that will allow students to study and understand these responses.”

The BBL began in 1989 as part of the Research Support Center at the UNC School of Nursing. As the inaugural director of the BBL, Dr. Neelon provided expertise and training in the use of minimally invasive instrumentation to measure biobehavioral responses to stress and illness. Over the years, the BBL has expanded its mission to enhance knowledge and skills in biobehavioral science, physiological measurement and instrumentation.

Dr. Neelon explains that the BBL is more than simply a group of rooms and special equipment: It is a room with no walls. “I have had 30 plus years of support, and it has been a joyful, exciting adventure,” she says. “I hope many students get the chance to start down a similar path of discovery.”

Dr. Neelon has been principal investigator on two NIH-funded studies, including a study of nursing interventions to prevent the development of acute confusion (delirium) in hospitalized elders. As part of this research, she and her collaborators developed the NEECHAM Confusion Scale, a tool to measure acute confusion by combining physiological, psychological and behavioral measures in a rapid clinical screen with minimal burden to patients. As Associate Professor Emerita, she continues her study of delirium, with a focus on populations with chronic illness and near end of life, and is conducting research with Dr. Barbara Carlson that explores the relationship of hypoxia, sleep and cognitive decline in older adults.

To contribute to the Neelon Scholarship, you can make a gift online at giving.unc.edu/gift/son or contact Anne Webb for more information at anne_webb@unc.edu.